Nov 3, 2016
The road your self must journey on
lies in polishing the heart.
It is not by rebellion and discord
that the heart’s mirror is polished free
of the rust of hypocrisy and unbelief:
your mirror is polished by your certitude –
by the unalloyed purity of your faith.
from your chains you have forged about yourself;
for you will be free when you are free of clay.
The body is dark – the heart is shining bright;
the body is mere compost – the heart a blooming garden.
“The Walled Garden of Truth” – Hakim Sanai
Years ago, during some serious marital strife, I was driving home from work early one morning, contemplating what had become of my life. I considered that the payoff from my homeowner’s insurance, should I die, meant that I was worth more to my family dead than alive. Such was the state of my broken heart. My wife and I had hit a precarious turn in our marriage and what had been a workable, sometimes pleasant life had become ugly. As I drove through the Illinois night, I considered whether I should plow into a bridge abutment. I still can feel my hands on the wheel and how they tingled and twitched. A slight twist of the wrist and my family’s life would have been changed forever.
What would make a healthy man with a beautiful family come so close to this? My marriage wasn’t the sole cause of my pain. I’d been suffering from suicidal thoughts since high school, and I would continue to for more than a decade after that night. A few weeks later, the answer to this question came in a therapy session, although I would not recognize this as “the” answer until my work started at the Awareness Institute. I tearfully told my therapist, “No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, it will never be enough. I feel like I am permanently flawed. I’m trying so hard! But it is never enough! I’m so frustrated!”
I was permanently flawed, or so I thought.
This was a key idea, for me, and I highlight it because I want you to see that it is just that, an idea.
We have control over our ideas, although it’s easy to believe that we don’t. All those years of tearful, soul rending conversations with my wife, my counsellors and my friends, and the answer was so simple! I just needed to stop believing that I was flawed.
I am not.
If someone had told me, years ago, that the key to my freedom was simply to let go, I would have been skeptical, but I am not the first person to suggest this. Sanai’s poem shows that beautifully.
We make ourselves suffer year after year, struggling against chains that are not only made by us, but are unlocked! But, how can we simply let go of these judgmental ideas of who we are? Meditation, forgiveness and unbridled love are pathways, but in the end, as Kosi says, we must focus on letting go of ideas, sweeping away harsh self-criticism like so much psychic dust on the shelves of the mind.
Any thought you have had about yourself
No matter how deflated or inflated is not who you are.
It is simply a thought.
You are already free
And all that blocks your realization of this freedom
Is your own attachment to some thought of who you are.
Plato talked about this, as well. He told a story about a race of people who lived in a cave, chained to a wall. A great sun shone behind the wall, throwing shadows on a second wall, before them. The people created an entire society based upon predicting where the shadows would go next. The greatest among them could coordinate predictions of the sights and sounds in the cave.
One day, a young man realized his chains were unlocked. At first, he tried desperately to hide this fact and worked at re-locking the chains, but it was no use. Soon, he sheepishly ventured toward the opening of the cave, far above. He walked out into the sunlight and saw for the first time a stunning vista. The sun danced on the babbling water of a nearby stream. Colorful insects flitted about oblivious to him. He stared for hours at ants diligently moving a dead bug across the uneven ground to their nest. He saw the world as it was.
My journey toward seeing the world “as it is” came, and continues to come, in tiny steps and in giant leaps. For me, the tiny steps involve meditation and deep reflection, often aided by discussions with other people who are on this path. I’ve found that stepping outside myself to “look back” on my actions – a sort of third person awareness of myself – is valuable. When I see myself as “that guy over there,” it is easier to see the things I’m doing that I probably should change.
This awareness of myself led to a giant leap almost a year and a half ago. You see, I used to be an atheist. In fact, I would tell anyone who made the mistake of stumbling upon the subject in my presence that the entire idea of God was silly. No proof. No sense. No way. Despite this, I began to feel an uneasy awareness that I could take a spiritual journey, if I wished. This was quite confusing for me. This was ridiculous! What would Richard Dawkins say!?
Without really knowing what I was doing, my curiosity created an intention to see this “path.” One day, after meditation, I suddenly found myself on a mountain trail leading off into a green meadow. This vision caused me to feel something I cannot adequately describe. Even now, the memory brings me to tears. It was the most calm, enduring sense of peace and love I have ever felt. A love as wide as the universe and as encompassing as collective warm, motherly cuddles ever felt by every child who ever existed. I had a strong sense that I did not deserve to be in this lovely place. I had not “earned” the right to be in this presence. I covered my face with my hands and wept. The amazing thing is that this presence did not share my feeling of doubt. It clearly believed that I did belong there. I deserve love.
You do, too. No matter who you are. No matter what you have done. No matter what mistakes you have made. You deserve love. Even if you reject everything God asks of you, you still deserve love.
This love is why I am no longer an atheist. I still sometimes feel that I don’t deserve it, but, unaccountably, I sit here writing this message to you with my chains lying at my feet. Believe me, I’ve tried to put them back on. In fact, even in the midst of writing this blog post, I have realized I have been mindlessly trying to reattach them, but the damn things just won’t fit.
Your chains are broken, too. Standing up and walking away is much easier than you think. All you have to do is stop believing the stories you tell about yourself. Get up and walk! The journey may be filled with twists and turns – HOPEFULLY! But it will also be filled with shocking sunsets and serene mountain panoramas that fill you with humble gratitude at God’s gift; with the repetitive thump of ocean waves, lulling you to peaceful understanding that reminds you hour after hour of your freedom. You were created perfect. Every bump in the road that you interpreted as pain was just a reminder of something important that you needed to learn.
It’s time to go, don’t you think? The future awaits. Let’s walk together.